The Trayvon Martin Case: A Lesson Still to be Learned

by Walter Brasch

For years, my father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol.

My father had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue- eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife. Once back home, he faced discrimination because neighbors thought he was Mexican; the ones who knew better discriminated because he was a Jew.

When I was 11 years old, we moved about 120 miles north to a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents bought a house in a new tract of about 150 houses, all owned by Whites and a few Hispanics. Three or four years later, a Realtor came by, plastering flyers on all the houses, announcing he had a special real good, one-time only deal. A few wouldn’t sell their houses at any price if it was a Black who was planning to move into the area. Someone in the tract finally took up the offer, and a Black family–he was a mechanical engineer–moved in. It didn’t take long before other White families began putting their houses up for sale. Only this time, they weren’t getting as much as the first family that sold out. Soon, the prices began tumbling as other Blacks and Hispanics moved in.

Eventually, the first Black family moved out. But my parents refused to sell their house. They had no intention of becoming involved with what was now known as “block busting.” A few of our Hispanic and Black neighbors wondered why we stayed; some even said we were crazy. But, until my father died in 1983, he owned that house in a neighborhood that went from almost 100 percent White to almost 100 percent Black, Hispanic, and lower-class White, refusing to be sucked in by racism.

Discrimination occurs throughout our country, whether we want to believe it or not.

At a synagogue in Sunbury, Pa., someone painted a swastika. In New York City, unidentified individuals threw several Molotov cocktails against a rabbi’s residence. These weren’t isolated incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,239 reported incidents in 2010. (The 2011 number is still being tallied.)

Several American communities and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted oppressive anti-immigration laws. On the surface, it appears they want to rid their areas of illegal immigrants, acting only to protect law-and-order. But, the deeper structure is that they fear Hispanics, more of them legal immigrants or citizens of the U.S. than undocumented workers, will get political, educational, and financial power and would reduce the influence of the ultra-conservative White population.

At the University of California at San Diego, a fraternity of Whites sent out invitations to a “ghetto-themed” party, which it called the “Compton Cookout.” The invitation noted that “ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes.” At that same school last year, a Klan hood was placed on a statue of Dr. Seuss.

At innumerable local schools, where the teachers had “cultural diversity” classes in college and on-the-job “diversity training,” it’s not unusual to hear a few teachers telling racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes, not just among themselves in a faculty lounge but also with students.

White supremacists shout for “White Pride!” and Black militants call for “Black Power!” Each claims they aren’t planning to destroy any other race–although myriad Klan and Skinhead actions prove otherwise–but merely to strengthen their own. Add into the mix, a few who will shout “racism” when no racism occurs and, thus, make it difficult for those with true compassion for justice to separate the truth from the fiction. Peel the rhetoric, and the core is still fear.

And that may be why the death of Trayvon Martin is so important. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., killed Martin, Feb. 26. Zimmerman acknowledges he killed Martin, but claims it was in self-defense. Under Florida’s reactionary “stand your ground” law, borne from fear rather than logic, people who feel threatened can take whatever action they think necessary, even shooting Black teenagers who are armed only with a pack of Skittles.

There are numerous versions of what happened, all of them advanced by myriad people with social and political agendas rather than a search for justice, no matter what they claim. But, fear is at the core of the rhetoric.  Mistrust and distrust, often fueled by the mass media with their own agendas, may lead some to irrationally believe that entire demographics of people-White, Black, Hispanic, gay, Jew, Muslim-may pose threats to their own safety, leading them to react as if the threats were real rather than imagined.

The reasons no longer matter to Trayvon Martin. The lesson however, should matter to the rest of us.

[Walter Brasch is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished service award. His latest book is Before the First Snow; a major theme of the book looks at issues of racism and bigotry. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers or amazon.]


Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution


Election Day With A Tea Bagger

I spent five hours Tuesday outside a polling place with a member of the Berks County “Patriots.”  These pseudo liberty loving morons have no regard for anyone but themselves.  When the man first arrived he voted first and I asked if he was a Democrat.  His response:  “hell no.”  So my first interaction with him was profane.  It was representative of his friends and compatriots who showed up during the day.  They were rude and belligerent.  One walked up to the Tea Bagger and said he was finally voting against “the monkey eared president.”  I heard many more racist comments through the day.

I did make a few points myself.  Discussing how we could tell from their vehicles who was his voter and which mine I was able to point out that my voters have a social conscience.  He kept saying how property rights are supreme and that no one else can tell a property owner what they can do with their property.  In that case let’s buy the land next to his and start a toxic waste dump.  He said he’d bought a Ford after being a Chevy guy all his life because Ford didn’t take a bailout.  he said the government should have let ten million of his fellow Americans lose their jobs.  Of course the economic ripple effect likely would have cost him his job too but these guys are too stupid to understand that.

He also ranted against the poor.  He thinks people on food stamps eat royally and live rather nicely on welfare.  I asked him if he could feed his family on $35 per week.  Another tea bagger engaged Kathi Ember of the Kutztown Area Democratic Club and I on several issues.  At least friendly, he illustrated a shockingly bad knowledge of basic facts.  He kept claiming that 47% of the country “is on the dole.”  He refused to admit he got his misinformation from Fox News but we know who pushes this sort of propaganda.

I didn’t learn anything about the members of the Tea Party I didn’t already know from writing my book about them but it is depressing to see such stupid, ignorant people pushing their radical ideas.  The difference between us and them in a nutshell:  they put property first, we put people first.

News & Notes April 27, 2012

President Obama will join VP Biden on the campaign trail with two rallies:  Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Virginia on May 5th.  Expect some return fire.

Sen. Pat Toomey voted against women again when he opposed renewing and expanding the Violence Against Women.  Call him and ask why he supports violence against women.

As sorry as I am to see Babette Josephs lose I’m happy about Brian Sims winning.  He’s a great guy and it’s a step forward for Pennsylvania to have our first openly gay legislator.  Now let’s  elect Chris Dietz and get two.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC (I’m a Board member) released this statement on the election results:

Yesterday’s primary election results are a clear illustration of the impact that support for women’s healthcare can have in an election. Democratic and Republican voters overwhelmingly stood up to far-right attacks at the polls on Tuesday as candidates in support of women’s health were victorious across the state.

In the most exciting victory of the night, former Planned Parenthood employee Erin Molchany defeated Committee endorsed and anti-choice Democrat Mark Schmotzer by a significant margin in the democratic primary to replace former State Representative Chelsa Wagner in House District 22.

Women scored a victory in House District 126 in Reading, where Mark Rozzi, the only pro-choice candidate in the democratic primary, handily beat two anti-choice opponents. Madeleine Dean was elected to fill the vacant seat of Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and made support for women’s healthcare and opposition to the mandatory ultrasound bill a cornerstone of her campaign. Planned Parenthood played a significant role in all these races.

Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC, Sari Stevens, commented on the election results, “The Planned Parenthood PAC is in a unique position to communicate with women voters on the issues they care about most, which is exactly what Planned Parenthood did across the state yesterday. We will be holding candidates accountable for their dangerous views on women’s health.  Women are watching and, as we saw today, women’s issues and women voters will be deciding elections across Pennsylvania this fall.”

Victories were not held to Democratic primaries however, with pro-choice Republican Representative Duane Milne easily defeating his far-right challenger in Chester County House District 167. In Senate District 31 – Cumberland/York, Senator Pat Vance decisively defeated her Republican challenger by 14 points. She was attacked for months by far-right national organizations pushing disingenuous messages.

“Planned Parenthood is a bipartisan organization,” said Executive Director Sari Stevens, “And the outcome of this election clearly demonstrates that support for women’s healthcare crosses party lines. Out of our 250,000 supporters statewide, nearly 50% are independent or Republican voters. Yesterday’s victories send an important message that politicians should keep politics out of the deeply personal decisions a woman makes in consultation with her family, her faith, and her doctor.”

Throughout Pennsylvania today, women’s advocates and issues were victorious as voters across the state overwhelmingly told far-right lawmakers that they’ve had enough.

Did you hear the one about the presidential candidates who walked into a bar?  One was a liberal, one a moderate and one a rabid conservative.  The bartender said “Hi Mitt!”

How does a burglar rob a house with a dog?  He takes a big meaty bone and distracts him.  How do you break into the White House?  Bring a prostitute for the Secret Service men.

This is what we get for trusting straight men with the President’s security…

Another facet of ObamaCare is benefiting consumers.  The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to use at least 85% of their revenues for medical care.  This isn’t a high standard, insurers routinely used over 90% of their revenues in years past before deciding to pay their executives huge salaries at your expense.  Now, because they didn’t meet this threshold they’re rebating $1.3 billion back to health insurance consumers.

We received a mysterious and bizarre postcard on election day trashing candidate House Mark Rozzi for supporting midnight pay raises and destroying the middle class.  It was supposedly paid for by the “Pennsylvania Progressive Alliance,” an illegal use of my blog name.  The group doesn’t exist and isn’t registered with the Commonwealth meaning it was illegal to send.  Interestingly a similar attack was made in south central PA with an attack from the illegal Conservatives Alliance of PA against House candidate Mike Regan.  I’m providing the Pennsylvania Secretary of State with our mailer and I’m curious to see if they came from the same source.

How did Mitt make so much money?

Gov. Gasbag’s cuts to education are continuing to wreak havoc.  The Reading School Board fired eight supervisors this week and the Philadelphia School Board voted itself out of existence.  We’ll pay dearly for these horrendous policy decisions for generations to come when Pennsylvanians can’t compete for jobs.

Former House Speaker Bill DeWeese finally resigned his House seat Tuesday after being sentenced to up to 60 months for corruption.  With true hubris he refused to accept responsibility for his actions right to the end.

Tom Corbett still hasn’t explained, in the wake of the Jane Orie and Bob mellow convictions, how he investigated the Republican Senate caucus and missed those two corrupt Senators.

Don’t believe those reports that VoterID worked OK Tuesday.  PennDOT keeps charging voters for ID’s, if they give them at all, and many elderly voters stayed away Tuesday because of lack of an ID.  A few stories:

A Decade of Deep Cuts in PA. Don’t Let It Happen.

( – promoted by John Morgan)

Deep state cuts have already put health care at risk for kids and denied help to families struggling in this economy. They have put thousands out of work in schools, colleges, nursing care facilities and hospitals.

Think that’s bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Pennsylvania House may vote as soon as next week on a bill that will cut corporate taxes by close to a billion dollars by the end of the decade. More cuts to schools and health care will be next.

House Bill 2150 would close some corporate tax loopholes in Pennsylvania, but it is paired with big tax breaks for businesses. Even after counting new revenue from closing loopholes, this bill is a big money loser for the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and Better Choices for Pennsylvania has an Action Page where you can send a message to your House lawmaker to reject this bill as is and to take steps to close tax loopholes more responsibly. Closing loopholes should not come at the price of budget deficits for years to come.

We’ve all seen the state budget headlines in recent months. 88,000 kids have had their public health coverage cut off. 14,000 Pennsylvanians have lost their jobs in schools and colleges. College tuition is rising, and help for families struggling in this economy is harder to come by.

Closing corporate tax loopholes could help Pennsylvania turn things around, but not if lawmakers pair it with business tax cuts that will cost us now and for years to come.